By Manish Pant, Communication Manager, India
In early 2020, amidst the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging reports and statements from the leading public health organizations linked tobacco use to COVID-19.
The World Health Organization found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease and face an increased risk of death from COVID-19 when compared to non-smokers.
In response, ministries of health in a number of countries issued advisories to citizens to stop using tobacco products. To make sure that this information reached people, Vital Strategies partnered with governments and state ministries of health on risk communication campaigns. Here are examples of innovative work from India, Pakistan, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines to address the dual epidemics.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued an advisory against using tobacco. They stressed that smoking and using smokeless tobacco increase the possibility of COVID-19 transmission, due to frequent contact between hand and mouth. In addition, it was stressed how chewing tobacco products such as gutka, zarda and paan masala, induce salivation and trigger the urge to spit, which can facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. As a result, 28 states and union territories banned the use of smokeless tobacco products and spitting in public places.
On World No Tobacco Day 2020, Vital Strategies provided technical support to the health department of Punjab to launch a state-wide mass media campaign to highlight the deadly harms of smokeless tobacco use and motivate people to quit—especially amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
Social media posts also conveyed the latest scientific information from WHO and the ministry of health on the health harms of tobacco use during COVID-19. Vital Strategies also promoted tips for quitting and the government’s national quitline number and cessation service to encourage tobacco users to quit tobacco during the lockdown period and beyond.
To counter misinformation about COVID-19 and about tobacco use and to disseminate critical information about how to reduce COVID-19 transmission, Vital Strategies partnered with the government of Pakistan to create an awareness campaign, FACT (Fighting to Alleviate Corona Together). The campaign was promoted through television channels, radio, print and social media.
On Dec. 1, 2020, Mexico became the first country in the region to incorporate a COVID-related warning, “Smoking can exacerbate the damages caused by COVID-19” (“fumar puede agravar el daño por COVID-19″). Vital Strategies helped provide evidence-based images for the new round of designs for tobacco pack warnings, and also ran a social media campaign on the México Sin Humo platform to highlight the risks of tobacco use and COVID-19.
To highlight the health harms of smoking and encourage people to quit, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vital Strategies launched an ongoing social media campaign in Indonesia titled #RokokRisikoCOVID (which roughly translates to “cigarettes risk COVID”) with a series of memes, videos and infographics.
In the Philippines, a social media campaign “Smoke-Free New Normal,” run by Vital Strategies in collaboration with the Philippines Department of Health, encourages adherence to smoke-free laws and suggests that health and safety are paramount in our “new normal,” which requires being smoke- and vape-free. It also shares information on the harms of smoking and the risks associated with COVID-19.
As the pandemic rages on, Vital Strategies’ tobacco control team continues to work tirelessly to make sure that the public knows how tobacco harms health and puts people at further risk from COVID-19.
For more information about Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control, please visit: https://www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/tobacco-control
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About Vital Strategies’ work in tobacco control:
Vital Strategies works globally and in more than 40 countries to support the adoption of proven policies to reduce tobacco use. Our global team of experts use policy, advocacy and strategic communication to help governments adopt lifesaving, public health “best buys” like comprehensive smoke-free laws and high tobacco taxes. Our evidence-based public education campaigns have been seen by more than 2 billion people around the world. We partner with American Cancer Society to produce The Tobacco Atlas, (sixth ed.) the most comprehensive report on the evolving global tobacco epidemic, and support production of WHO’s MPOWER reports. Vital Strategies is a main partner in the $1 billion Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use and a partner in the global tobacco industry watchdog, Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP).